What kind of a year has 2019 been for you?
2019 has been a wake up call, to me at least, that the values of artists have an important part to play in inspiring long term change in society. It’s hard not to have the election results overshadow things though.
2019 was also a year where we started to grow our organisational structure at Paradise Works. We tested out quite a few things, embraced success and failure and worked with some brilliant people. It’s only been three years since Hilary Jack, myself and a group of artists went down to investigate our current building, so it’s been pretty intense fast-tracking Paradise Works to where we are now. We learnt a lot this year, which we’ll bring into 2020, including to take on the right things at the right time (and not everything all at once!)
What has changed for the better?
How about the moves towards an art world that is more engaged with its societal impact? There seems to be a much more active, critically engaged discussion on the social role of art and I certainly feel that more artists are examining their position here, which gives me hope. This was beautifully demonstrated in the Turner Prize share. Being an artist is a political act after all.
This year we started testing ways to develop the civic role of Paradise Works. I’m excited about how we can develop this in the future to see how artists can be embedded in city communities with their value understood, rather than hidden in plain sight.
What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
What happened in politics has been brewing for some time but I wish someone could have waved a magic wand and changed that track. I also wish there had been less demonisation and fury, and more grounds to develop discussion and build understanding.
In art, I wish two men having a laugh about a banana on a wall wasn’t the public’s last interaction with contemporary art this year. I think we can do better than that.
What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
I’m really proud of what me and Hilary have achieved through Paradise Works. We have covered a lot of ground in a short time and we’re starting to take the steps to future-proof the organisation. We’ve had a really dynamic and broad programme in the gallery with a vibrant open studios weekend in October.
We were also joined by some brilliant artists and we brought some equally brilliant people on board so we could stop doing everything ourselves. We tested out our role in the city community in a couple of ways and this will help us consider our next moves, which is exactly the kind of freedom artist-led spaces should provide.
I’m a few months into the Clore Fellowship now and an achievement here was to give myself permission to lead, although really this permission came from my peers and I’m really grateful for that. In 2020 I will have the dedicated space and time to figure out what to do with this new found power – thanks a-n!
Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
All of the right things, in the right order, and then also had time to read, use my studio and do a bit of art! I keep thinking back to the first show we had at Paradise Works called ‘Politics of Paradise’, which touched on the utopian vision of artists and the beauty of naivety. I think we were on the mark with that exhibition, more than we were aware at the time! I am sure we thought we’d have Paradise Works set up in a permanent home, be patting ourselves on the back while enjoying a brew and doodling in the studio by now.
What would make 2020 a better year than 2019?
I would say 2020 will be a success for me if at the end of play, more people understand the value of artist communities in cities and started to pull back from the brink of homogenised and commercially led place making.
On the ground at Paradise Works I want to increase our stability and sustainability, work with more people and bring in more people to see exhibitions and studios. That’s a lot of ‘mores’, but we want to consolidate our public programme too so we can focus our efforts on making sustainable what we’ve already started. It is going to be tough to say ‘no’ but we hope it might spur on other artist-led activity while we establish what is needed to create a long-term home for Paradise Works.
1. Lucy Harvey. Photo: Marta Demartini Photography
2. Paradise Works launch, October 2017. Photo: John Lynch
3. Community signage workshop at Paradise Works led by studio members James Ackerley and Maisie Pritchard
4. Gregory Herbert, works made during artist residency at Paradise Works, summer 2019